Helen Lundeberg, abstract painter, lithographer, and muralist, was the most important woman Surrealist on the West Coast. Working in the Los Angeles art scene from the 1930s until her death, Lundeberg created art that would reveal the subconscious workings of the mind in a rational way.
Born in Chicago, Lundeberg moved with her family to California. She studied art in 1930 at the Stickney School of Art in Pasadena where she met and studied under Lorser Feitelsen, whom she later married.
Her breakout decade was the 1930s, when her artworks contained flagellum-propelled, cell-like bodies, galaxies, planets, optical instruments, and self-portraits. In 1934, she and Feitelsen co-founded “Post Surrealism,” which integrated classic subjective association with personal symbology and vision. In 1934, they issued their sole manifesto, “New Classicism,” which presented the American Surrealist ideology as a response to European Surrealism.
Lundeberg’s first solo exhibition was in Los Angeles in 1933. She participated in all of the post-Surrealist group exhibitions, including those in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Brooklyn. Her work appeared in the exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism” in 1936 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Her 1935 “Double Portrait of the Artist in Time” is a shadowy, double self-portrait, which shows the child as mother of the imagined woman. Her 1936 oil painting “Irises” renders the vascular tissue of stems. The effect is disquieting since irises, which grow in semi-arid environments, are painted by her in an imagined red-hot desert landscape.
She painted murals from 1936 until 1942. Of her many murals, the last one was the spectacular 241-foot mural wall, “The History of Transportation,” for Inglewood, California. At the time, this was the largest mural project in the United States. By 1942, she began a decade of Post-Surreal mood paintings of intimate still life, evocative landscapes, and views of outer space. These works produced a peaceful mood through a subtle color palette.
In the early 1950s she focused less on details and more on the formal aspects of painting, such as geometric forms, planes, and ambiguous space. In 1957, she turned to hard-edge abstraction in a series of architectonic interiors. Although she was associated with other L.A. hard-edge artists, she always remained apart. Her paintings were infused with a quiet sense of mystery, and in all her works the “Helen Lundeberg mood” and the “Helen Lundeberg palette” were constants. They can be seen in her 1967 “Planet Rising” and her 1979 “Greys with Orange,” a subtle and beautiful landscape.
In 1980, two years after the death of her husband, there was a double-retrospective of her and Feitelsen’s works. Her paintings have been exhibited at the Getty Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York’s MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Palm Springs Art Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum.